BBC America this morning said it will premiere the two-part special, Top Gear: The Perfect Road Trip Italy, starting this Monday, March 16 – replacing previously scheduled episodes of Season 22. Meanwhile, nearly 1 million furious fans have signed a petition to reinstate suspended show host Jeremy Clarkson.
The network said Tuesday, as had BBC, it would not air the upcoming episode after BBC suspended Clarkson following “a fracas” with a show producer. “No one else has been suspended,” BBC said in the statement announcing the scheduled episode would not be broadcast in the UK this Sunday. BBC America at that time referred press inquires to BBC’s statement, and said only that the next episode of Top Gear — which it airs in the U.S. on Mondays — would be replaced by a previously aired episode.
The Italy two-parter that BBC America announced this morning will be making its U.S. debut. In the episodes, “With any car (or boat or bike) they choose for all or parts of the journey, their mission is simple – to have the most fun possible on and off the road, as well as on the track,” BBCA said. Top Gear: The Perfect Road Trip Italy premieres Monday, March 16, at 9 PM ET and Monday, March 23, at same time.
But it’s the difference between how BBC defines “fun” and how Clarkson defines it, that is the root of the problem the show and host now face. Clarkson and show have found themselves in the BBC equivalent of the principal’s office for most of the past year or so; at one point BBC said it would sack Clarkson if he made “one more offensive remark, anywhere, at any time.” Which is, of course, an absurd threat to make to a host you have hired in large measure because of his talent for blurting outrageous things at the most inopportune times. And then there’s his fans. Really, it’s like throwing raw meat to piranha; one petition signer suggested BBC instead resolve the situation by buying helmets for the producers.
Here is BBC’s own reckoning of Clarkson and show transgressions. “With Clarkson at its head, Top Gear has been no stranger to controversy,” the BBC began:
- October 2014 – The show’s stars and crew had to abandon filming in Argentina amid angry protests over a car number plate that appears to refer to the Falklands War.
- July 2014 – Ofcom ruled a Burma Special in which Jeremy Clarkson used a racial slur broke broadcasting rules. (The BBC used the slur in its write up on Clarkson, by way of describing this incident)
- May 2014 – The programme drew complaints when video footage leaked to the Daily Mirror appeared to show Jeremy Clarkson using a racist term while reciting the nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe. The presenter later apologized for the incident – which was never broadcast – in a video statement where he “begged forgiveness.” (BBC did not, in its write up of this incident, mention that Clarkson explained in his video statement he’d done multiple takes of the scene, mumbling over the word in the first few instances, subbing it for a word that had been used to replace the slur in the well-known nursery rhyme for the final take and was “horrified” when an outtake was leaked. After that leak, BBC issued a statement saying, “Jeremy Clarkson has set out the background to this regrettable episode. We have made it absolutely clear to him, the standards the BBC expects on air and off. We have left him in no doubt about how seriously we view this.” BBC did not use the slur in its write-up of this incident. But you can read all about the various iterations of this nursery rhyme on Wikipedia, if you care.
- October 2012 – The BBC Trust ruled comments by Clarkson which likened the design of a camper van to people with facial disfigurements breached disability guidelines.
- January 2012 – Indian diplomats complained about a 90-minute India special in which a car fitted with a toilet in its boot is described by Clarkson as “perfect for India because everyone who comes here gets the trots.”
- February 2011 – The BBC apologized to Mexico after Clarkson and his co-hosts characterized Mexicans as “lazy” and “feckless”.